Everybody loves a new set release. Doesn't matter if you've been playing Magic for 20 days or 20 years, there's just something special about a new pile of goodies!
Generally speaking, I prefer exploring new planes to revisiting existing ones—I want the pure excitement of a new place, with new flavor, mechanics, and aesthetic. Thankfully, it seems like 2021 is the year of New Planes (very exciting), and we'll be traveling to lots of never-before-seen places!
Speaking of excitement, I am jazzed about Kaldheim. Great aesthetic? Check. Fun new mysterious mechanic, the Morph for spells? Definitely. Reasons to play Snow-Covered Lands beyond just a few low-impact payoffs? I think so. SAGAS!?!?! Be still, my heart.
When it comes to the Planeswalker Deck Project, there are a lot of things I look for in a new set. (Beyond the Planeswalkers, of course, who stoke the brewing fires like none other!) There are plenty of fun Rares in this set, but I'll try to select a few highlights. We've also got to comb the file for exciting Commons and Uncommons. This can be anything from new Removal spells, Draft "signpost" Gold cards, Disenchant variants, new or rarely reinforced Tribal impact, or new mana sources.
So let's get to it: the Planeswalker Deck Project review of Kaldheim!
Snow is a pretty exciting Limited mechanic. If you allocate enough draft picks on otherwise useless basic lands, some of your other spells will pay off, and the deck will be greater than the sum of its parts. When it comes to Constructed, however, things are a little different. We're simultaneously more easily able to afford the setups (because we can choose to pack our decks with Snow-Covered lands and the like) and less able to take advantage of the payoffs (because anyone can have dope powerful cards, and all of a sudden those things we've warped our entire deck around to accommodate can't deliver). Previous sets haven't had the marquee payoffs to change that theory.
What this means is that Snow-Covered lands usually come in as incidental manabases, because they're free and they enable a couple of "free" powerful cards...and the rest of the Snow payoffs are totally forgotten. When Coldsnap was first in Standard, Skred was a powerful Red removal spell that made Snow lands worthwhile, and Scrying Sheets presented a minor incremental draw engine. Nowadays, Arcum's Astrolabe provides great mana fixing in all of the older formats it can be played in.
But what about the other Snow payoffs? Marit Lage's Slumber? Heidar, Rimewind Master? The mighty Conifer Wurm? Even a pile of Iceberg Cancrix? Never good enough. And that's the problem. People are often incentivized to play Snow-Covered Lands because there isn't a downside and the few payoffs are worth it, but they aren't satisfying enough reasons to prevent people from playing their favorite basics, and that's a huge bummer (especially coming from me, a basic land art connoisseur).
Kaldheim makes a valiant attempt to fix this problem. With several extremely exciting Rares like Jorn, God of Winter, Ascendant Spirit, Blood on the Snow, and Icebreaker Kraken, we've got some spells that can hang with the best cards in the set as rewards for embracing the frost. Upon seeing these cards, I'm hopeful that we end up getting a Snow or Ice related Planeswalker sooner rather than later. Even if we don't, I'm almost positive that the first Sultai Planeswalker we get will end up with a Snow Theme. Huge props to the Kaldheim team for finally giving us reasons to brew Snow-heavy decks!
You'll see these decks soon enough if you haven't already, but let's just say that I'm very pleased with this set's Planeswalker offerings. I love new characters from both a mechanical and flavor perspective and this set definitely delivers. We also have a Tibalt that isn't nearly as embarrassing as previous offerings, and is, in fact, a house. Kaya is the only "disappointing" option here, and that's only because we already have a ton of Black/White Planeswalkers. Truth be told, most of the Kayas are pretty similar to each other.
Planeswalker Verdict: A-
I would have preferred a Kaya that wasn't mostly a value machine, but we still get 75% Planeswalkers that I'm psyched to brew with, and that's a much higher percentage than I get in most sets!
First, let's get the allstars out of the way: Sagas. Boy, do I love Sagas. They were my favorite part of Dominaria, a set I absolutely loved. They were my favorite part of the return to Theros, and they're an awesome part of Kaldheim. Sagas create flavorful and interesting game states. They remind me of Planeswalkers, in that you invest some mana into the card and then you get multiple effects out of it. Unlike Planeswalkers, they have a shelf life and they won't warp a game around them for half a dozen turns. If Planeswalkers weren't something that mattered to Magic for building the value of the IP and the Lore, I think Sagas could take their place from a gameplay perspective and players would be largely satisfied.
Anyway, we finally get some multicolored Sagas, and they're all delightful. Flavorful in different ways, these will often be the one of the best cards in a Planeswalker deck—but that doesn't make them unbeatable! My favorites here are Firja's Retribution, Battle of Frost and Fire, and Waking the Trolls—but you can't really go wrong with any of the Sagas.
New or under-supported creature types are always welcome, and Kaldheim brings Dwarves and Giants back to the forefront. Blue Giants in particular are new and interesting, and I'm intrigued to figure out how to make them work in a future deck! Currently I have a Red/White deck slated around Dwarves and Vehicles, but it'll be interesting to figure out how some of these new ones might slot in, as well as how much design space exists for several Dwarf decks. When I figure those things out, Calamity Bearer, Cyclone Summoner, Arni Brokenbrow, and Magda, Brazen Outlaw will be superstars. (Sidenote: I cannot wait until we get a Giant Planeswalker, and I hope it's soon!)
I also want to highlight a trio of Rares that might not fit any major themes, but make some really sweet cards. Varragoth, Bloodsky Sire is a good example. Comes out fairly early in the game, presents a totally serviceable body, and, oh yeah, it can Vampiric Tutor every turn! If we can stack our deck for the rest of the game, victory is all but assured in a format like the Planeswalker Decks where power level is more or less consistent. It's a powerful effect tacked on to an otherwise effective body.
Righteous Valkyrie is another incredible offering from this set. White (and White/Black) has frequently shown us cards that payoff by gaining life, or gaining a certain amount of life, or getting to a life total "X beyond starting life total", and it's always...fine. If the stars align and you get both your enablers and your payoffs, you might have a real stew cooking. Righteous Valkyrie is like one of those one-pan meals, though, or maybe a Blue Apron subscription. All of a sudden you get everything you need, in one convenient package! It's already a fine body for only 3 mana, it gains you a very solid amount of life, and the payoff is substantial. I'm already looking at playing Path of Bravery in one of these decks; the Valkyrie here makes for a significant upgrade.
Last but not least, we've got the Old-Growth Troll. Talk about a hard to kill threat! Back in Magic's early days, Trolls were similarly hard to kill. But now that Regeneration isn't a mechanic they print anymore, I appreciate the new and creative ways R&D has come up with to convey Troll durability. Looks like this will be hard to play in a deck that isn't Mono Green, but that's okay. There are a ton of those already, and there will only be more. Excited to bash people with this old fella.
Rares Verdict: A
Without reinventing the wheel or getting too complicated, there are several cards I'm excited to play here. Sagas are a smash hit with me as always, there are Snow payoffs that make the prospect of building around them delightful, and there's fun other creatures that are cost-effective and powerful.
Let's not beat a dead horse here—yes, I love these Sagas, too, and they will all find homes in this project somewhere. The Gold Legends are also excellent options that I'm excited to play. Vega, the Watcher is my favorite, simply because the ability clearly points to a Foretell deck (slight spoiler alert for the Niko Aris PDD!), but also because it works great in decks I've already built, such as Teferi, Hero of Dominaria and the Suspend package in there. Maja, Bretaguard Protector, aka The Andy Hurst Invitational Card, combines my love of tokens, land drops, and big board states in a tidy package.
The real gems of the Uncommons, though, are the lands! The way I design these decks, they frequently come out to something like "20 Basics + 4 Nonbasics". And let me tell you, that budget seems pretty conservative until you make 150+ of these things, and then you realize that those lands go FAST. This has proven dishearteningly true with multicolor lands, especially when you consider that WotC has decided they'd rather reprint Guildgates or Tranquil Cove than make new stuff. I now know the Arena Player's pain.
These lands don't produce two colors of mana, which is a little bit of a bummer, but they are meant for specifically two-color decks, and they offer significant rewards for gameplay in decks with corresponding colors. Consider the Gnottvold Slumbermound. In the late game, it blows up a land and gives you a 4/4 creature, all at Instant speed! Surtland Frostpyre Pyroclasms! Axgard Armory can double tutor! These are all very powerful effects, and fantastic additions to this project's cardpool. I'm a little grumpy with the fact that some of them can only be activated as sorceries and others aren't restricted similarly, but whatever. These cards are my overall favorites in the entire set, and I hope all of my uncommons in my Set Box are either Sagas or these lands.
One more cycle I want to highlight is Kaldheim's Equipments. The problem with Equipment is that sometimes you end up with an Equipment but nothing to wield it, so it just sits there on the board and does nothing to help. Starting with the Living Equipments from Mirrodin Besieged, and again in M20, we've gotten a few Equipments that provide bodies to go with them, ensuring that they will always have bearers. This cycle, Valkyrie's Sword, Giant's Amulet, Draugr's Helm, Dwarven Hammer, and [[Elven Bow[[ offer the best of both worlds. They're aggressively costed, but if you pay the informal kicker cost, you get a body of varying size to wear them. I could easily see playing these in several Planeswalker decks because of the extra body they can provide. They're especially flavorful as well because of their tribal affiliations.
Uncommons Verdict: A-
These lands are grand slams, the gold Sagas and Legends are all interesting and powerful, and the Equipment is dope as well. Other than the lands, there aren't many All-Timers here, like a Path to Exile, Lightning Helix, Fact or Fiction, or the like, but that's okay. I hope WoTC continues releasing fun, strong, and interesting Non-Rare nonbasics in the future!
I'm delighted that Kaldheim offers us Commons that bring some complexity to the table. Boast is a very cool mechanic, and while we don't get a ton of Common Boasters (I count 8), it's still an ability I'm pleased to have on my creatures! I'll likely be considering Boast creatures as inclusions within my Planeswalker Duel Decks wherever possible. Attacking is always fun, and creatures that can shine early or late-game based on their boastfulness make them more valuable than their stats alone might indicate!
If I ever do create a Snow-based deck, Kaldheim gives me some good options at Common, especially the new Snow Dual lands.
I enjoy Foretell, mostly due to the Mana costs more than anything else. You'd be surprised at how many Common spells get printed that cost 4/5/6 mana—it's honestly not that many, and when I try to balance out the Mana curves in these decks, I often find myself really scrounging for cards with those costs. Foretell gives us some options here, but I'd like to see more ambitious Commons at higher costs, to really push how often we'll be Foretelling them to get that discount. Maybe that dream is too lofty at the Common level, but hey, I'm a hopeful guy.
Commons Verdict: B+
We get some Tribal and Snow support, and Boast is a definite highlight for me. I do wish some of the Removal was a little more interesting and wouldn't mind a few of those higher costed spells, but I'm a patient guy. They'll get to it eventually.
Overall Set Verdict: A-
Kaldheim gives us fantastic flavor and aesthetic without bogging us down in needlessly complicated mechanics. (And that's a hard balance to strike!)
Planeswalker Duel Deck fans, and Casual players in general—what do YOU think of the Kaldheim set? Which cards are you psyched to play? Do you, too, consider Sagas to be incredible? Let me know!